National Geographic : 1966 Jan
Challenge of education absorbs boys at Riyadh's Model Capital School; they write in flowing Arabic script from right to left. A showcase institution, the school offers courses in art, mathematics, and chemistry, as well as traditional lessons from the Koran and Arabic literature. Within the past ten years the kingdom's Ministry of Education has tripled the number of schools. Today, as Saudi Arabia begins educating its women for the first time, nearly 60,000 girls attend public-but not coeducational-schools. Thus the nation seeks to recapture the glori ous era when Arabic scholars helped keep learning alive during Europe's Dark Ages. Bachelor's last fling: Clapping hands beat out the rhythm as a wedding dancer whirls on a street of Jidda. The groom invited these male guests; the bride's friends will gather at her home. Saudi parents arrange most marriages, usually between cousins. enrolling girls in public schools-shattering traditions centuries old to do it. "We continue to drill wells for water and oil; but most important is the well of knowledge." Before leaving Riyadh, I visited the Insti tute of Light, one of the most impressive schools I have seen anywhere. I was greeted by the young, energetic director, Mr. Abdallah el-Ghanim. Abdallah was born 31 years ago in a small village near Riyadh. There, as a child, smallpox had blinded him. "Being blind is perhaps less of a handicap in Saudi Arabia than in other countries," Abdallah explained. "Most Arab schools used to rely on oral education and memorization. But I knew if I was to amount to anything, I must learn to read. An Iraqi teacher in my village taught me Braille." Soon Abdallah was not only reading with his fingertips, but teaching a small group of other sightless Saudis to do the same.